As has been the case from time to time in the seven years plus of A Punter’s Perspective, ’tis the night before deadline and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a half-decent idea for a folk music magazine article.
Realising my dilemma on the train to work today, I turned to the world’s font of most knowledge (and funny cat videos): Twitter. And I asked publicly to all, and pointedly to three or four music bloggers, what might a good topic be.
The answer came from a former radio presenter now blogger/vlogger (a kindred spirit, then) from the Netherlands who goes by the title of ‘The Dutch Guy’ (@DutchGuyOnAir), and he suggested:
“How about talking about some mistakes indie artists might make?”
By curious coincidence, this is a topic I’d considered before and only pulled back from it at the risk of causing offence.
Causing offence is a service I do occassionally provide — usually unintentionally.
I’ve put enough noses out of joint in the music world in the past nine years by commission, omission, or at the very least, blind stupidity, and have no need to add to that tally by more inadvertent misadventure.
I often say that I can have my intelligence insulted without willfully watching certain TV programs or listening to certain radio stations. (And that I didn’t mention them by name is at least a sign that I’m learning — slowly.)
Therefore, some disclaimers.
I am totally in awe of musicians, artists and singer-songwriters.
The concept of playing a three to 20-stringed instrument (or one you blow, slap, or pump) while singing and possibly dancing (or at least a little light duck-walking), and then doing that from 20 minutes at a time, for up to three or four hours, leaves me absolutely breathless.
1993: One Year Into My Life On Stage(s), A Monster Is Born!
In 1992 I was press-ganged, as organically-chosen head of the social club of my workplace, and the person most likely, to present a charity trivia quiz for a couple of hundred people.
That night in mid-September 1992 when I picked up a microphone for the first time properly — the Kraken awake’d.
Bill Quinn died that night and Billy Quinn awoke.
Some months later, needing a gag for our follow-up, I wrote to two likely lads who were then plying their trade on Triple J, formerly 2JJ or 2 Double J.
I wrote my letter, forgot about it and life continued. Six days before the 1993 quiz, I came rolling in, rolling in, rolling rolling, as I came rolling in [drunk] and my long-suffering then wife said a package had arrived and was in the hall.
Yeah, I did a few cartwheels and dive rolls that night. Therein was the tape with this on which I later edited to remove references to the selected charity (The Smith Family) so I could re-use it to get utility for many other charities, not for profits and 21 years later…. I think I need to book a certain venue for a date in September.
Andrew Winton, David Hyams and Bernard Carney at the bar, Illawarra Folk Festival, 2012. Photo by Bill Quinn.
Last night a song came on the Saturday Night Forever Classic Hits and Memories Relive Show on the radio. And the song is a brilliant soundtrack to my current never-ending task of cleaning, packing, clearing, selling, and carting stuff to op shops, charity stores and the tip.
The song (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles) I learnt via ABC Sing books in primary school and ABC Radio 2CN and 2CY back in the 1970s.
And from listening to Beatles records in the Dickson Library in Canberra after school.
I took the song in my head to a ‘Songs We Sang In School’ themed concert at Illawarra Folk Festival a few years ago, in answer to a callout from the organisers.
I’d worked up a bit of vaudeville to go with it, but the setting for the concert was an intimate affair up the hill in the Chapel.
At that time, the venue was just the chapel itself, not the awesome little elevated tent show it’s now become.
The small, subdued crowd didn’t really seem to suit the energy of what I’d planned, so I did a Dylan song instead.
However, I *did* mention to Bernard Carney in passing that I was planning to do the song before I changed plans. Bernard Carney, apart from his decades-long anthology of original music, has made a regular feature of his festival appearances in putting on all-singing, all-dancing, multi-muso, multi-instramental, multi-styles and genres Beatles Singalongs at festivals and gigs around Australia.
At my casual remark that I was minutely and momentarily stealing his thunder (i.e. not in the slightest), Bernard shot me one of his trademark sideways looks, twiddled his ‘tache, and said, “Why don’t you come along and sing it at The Beatles Singalong?”
Me. Mr Amateur Warbler Plus, who occasionally slid off notes like a slippery dip.
Singing with electrified accompaniment in front of ~400 people.
Feel the fear and don’t think twice, it’s alright. (Gratuitous Bob Dylan references are my jam and cream.)
“Oh, yeah. Alright. No big.” Translation: OH MY GAAAAWD!
Always up for a challenge, me. “That a (hu)man’s grasp should exceed [their] reach, or what’s a heaven for?”
Possibly vice versa. I never can recall.
Come the appointed night, with the thought of going on stage and singing with a backing band, I had so much adrenaline pumping through the veins, you could stick a cord into any orifice and light up a small city.
Ask Craig Dawson — he was sat next to me and had to ask permission to say something before I went up there.
I’m glad he did because he said, “Give it everything. Don’t hold back. Leave it all out there on the stage.”
I can scarcely remember getting more timely, salient, or sage advice. Thanks, Campusoid.
I strode out, barefoot and in shorts, bandages around my legs where the gumboots had bitten into my calves, plonked a bag on the stage, nodded to no less than Liz Frencham on bass, David Hyams on geet, and Bernard himself wielding his axe. 🎸 There were others.
I fluffed the first line because I was – still am – crap at singing lead with accompaniment, rarely if ever know when to come in. But I made up for lost ground, and when we hit the first chorus, I had props.
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra…” ♪♪♪
And every time I hit the word ‘bra’, I threw a St Vincent de Paul shop-bought bra out into the audience.
If I missed a note, or got a half-tone off or slurred a word, who cared? Everyone was tossing bras around the crowd. 💄
An enduring memory of that night came as I sang, “🎼🎵🎶 Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face!” And on every syllable stabbing a finger at Billy Folkus, the late, great, flawed but fabulous Bill Arnett.
Picture, if you wish, an Australian twin of Billy Connolly in the fifth or sixth row. Billy had one of the bras tied around his head like some large, hairy, pseudo-effeminate character from a Jane Austen novel.
I walked off stage to shrieks of laughter and gales of applause, cheering and clapping, and the knowledge that noone — not one single person — needed to know my name. Just that they had had a fun time and laughed lots and maybe had a story to tell.
It chrystallised everything that’s core to my being about performance and writing and speaking and radio and singing and living:
It’s not about me. It’s about you.
It’s about them. It’s about us.
I don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world and never aim to. That people can tell me stories as if anew that prominently featured me – but they didn’t know nor realise it was me – is a cause for great personal joy and satisfaction.
It’s the song, not the singer. Play the game, not the ball/song carrier.
Another enduring memory out of all of that was the amused, bemused and c-mused look on Bernard’s face as I bounced off stage and over to the bar to collect the bottle of wine I’d won as a runner-up prize in the Yarn Spinning Contest earlier that day.
I necked it in about 15 minutes flat, which only partially damped down the raging flames of heat and adrenaline. That provides something of a ‘call-back’ to the Billy Connolly reference. I highly recommend the book ‘Billy’ by Pamela Stephenson. (Please check for possible triggers before reading.) Pamela talks about how Billy could drink a stonkering amount of alcohol after a gig but stay high-functioning because of the counter-balance of adrenaline.
I know what that looks like, though mercifully, I’ve never been a slave to the drink. Also, if Billy Connolly is premier league, I’m Sunday park football. Not even in the same postcode.
Bernard Carney watched my exit, stage right, and with another of his trademark looks, leaned into his mic and wryly observed to the audience:
“I think we’ve reached a seminal moment in Beatles Singalongs!”
The next morning, as we were setting up in the Slacky Flat Bar for the day’s shows, one of the cleaners walked up to me swinging one of the bras around her fingers, and with an incredulous look on her face asked:
At the Cobargo Folk Festival in February 2013, Kim Churchill was the recipient of my vicarious joy at this news, and we spontaneously had a chat, leaning on someone’s trailer, outside a venue, out in the open — which was a bit of a mistake because as I now know: don’t try to do these things in a flukey, swirling breeze.
I’m sure you’ll cope. Muggins here did the best he could with the sound balance. [Audio file will be removed by end February 2020.] Interview text:
Bill Quinn: I’m standing here with Kim Churchill. Hello, Kim.
Kim Churchill: Hello, Bill.
BQ: Kim, You’re about to go to America and tour with someone and I’m just a little bit excited about that. Tell me what you’re going to do in America.
KC: I’m going to do the opening slots for a guy named Billy Bragg.
The band has played many live radio and television performances in Australia and overseas.
With a mixture of traditional Scottish and Irish music and modern self penned Celtic rock the band represents the best of new age Folk Music.
Through a diverse and unique mix of sound’s featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle, military snare, the highland bagpipes and even a didgeridoo, it is little wonder Claymore are one of Australia’s most popular festival acts. A not to be missed extravaganza.
Claymore are one of the first bands to spark my interest in folk music. Unless you count that village fair in Surrey in 1979 where I first experienced Morris Dancing (and have been in therapy ever since).
Nothing was ever quite the same after that, even if it did take another three and a half years to distil the experience and step over the threshold of the National Folk Festival in Canberry for the very first time. My ninth is coming up this month.
It was wonderful to see Claymore perform in Queanberra last Saturday as I prepared to leave the city of my birth for good.
I’ve been lobbying William Hutton and co. to come here for about four and a half years since I had the great pleasure of being the band’s MC at the Guinness Tent at Maldon Folk Festival to a heaving, throbbing and bobbing crowd. That they were here near the nation’s capital just before I’m folking off for the rest of my naturals was a dream come true.